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Shaking Up My Bookshelf

Sometimes I worry I’m becoming too blinkered, that as much as I love <insert genre/author> I’m growing ignorant of what else might be out there.

My all time favourite, go-to kind of book is in the Paranormal Romance category, or Dark Fantasy, depending on what the priorities are within the narrative. Currently got the Shifters series on the go by Rachel Vincent. And I’ve just finished the Sookie Stackhouse series.

But I need to make sure I don’t just keep falling back on what I know I’ll like- else I’ll never discover anything new, and I won’t change or evolve as a reader. And, from a writing point of view, that’s important too. To keep finding new styles and new ways of doing things.

Reading a different genre doesn’t mean you have to write it. But it does show you how to approach something differently (and that includes those books that you didn’t like, because you learn what NOT to do).

So here’s some books I’ve bought to shake things up a bit, and why:

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Paper Towns by John Green

-I’ve wanted to read a John Green book for a while now, but I’ve been reluctant to read the Fault in Our Stars because of the mega hype surrounding it. I’m stubborn like that. So I’ve picked Paper Towns instead.

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I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

YA is an age group I’ve always wanted to try and write for, but any effort has been a miserable feat of frustration and disaster. But then I thought- why do I always have a female protagonist? The answer is because I’ve not really read any YA/Teen fiction that had a boy as its main character. I’m rectifying that. And I’m enjoying it too! I think I might be one of those people that feels more comfortable writing as a boy… Weirdly..

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Phenomenal X by Michelle A. Valentine

The cover. My god. *heart races* This is totally not my kind of book. At least, that’s what I would have said last year. But since reading ‘Stay’ and ‘Hold On’ by the wonderful Hilary Wynne, I’ve been trying to find something with a similar kind of vibe. And while I’m not sure it exists (her books were such a ‘fit’ for me, it’s one of those rare finds) I’m no longer ignoring books in the contemporary romance section. AND I’m also gently easing myself into the ‘erotica’ pool too. (Euw, ‘erotica pool’? Nice..)

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Reaper’s Property by Joanna Wylde

Similar to above, really. But I was compelled to try this series after reading the mixed reviews. I’m always intrigued to read something when it’s had as many ‘I LOVE IT!’ reviews as ‘WTF is this?!’ Generally I tend to err on the ‘I LOVE IT!’ side in these cases.. So we’ll see! And I’m a sucker for a biker..

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On Sex and Violence

I was listening to Radio 2 today, and there was an author talking (sorry! I didn’t catch who you were Mr Author Man!!) and he made a really good point. I’m going to elaborate on it here:

So, I write about a range of things and put my characters in extremes of scenarios. Like many writers, I want to really push my characters to the edge, make them uncomfortable and see what happens.

If I write a scene depicting something graphically violent, like, I dunno, my character breaks someones fingers one at a time, then slowly inserts a metal barbecue skewer into their abdomen, and, after this person passes out, begins to slowly peel their skin off with a potato peeler, flaying them alive..

..no one would necessarily assume that this is something I have first hand experience doing. Right? I mean, you can read a crime novel, or a horror story, and experience some horribly gruesome things, but you don’t then think ‘holy moly, this author has had a terrifying life!’

Why then, when I place my character in a highly sexual situation- and I’m talking nitty gritty nasty details. Balls and all! – is it more generally assumed that this has come from a personal experience? ‘Oh yeah, this author is a dirty bitch!’ Yeah, ok. I might have a plethora of smut going on in my imagination (who doesn’t?) but that doesn’t mean that I have personally had a sexual experience to make a porn star blush.

I’m not speculating here, I’ve witnessed it happen. It’s happened to my very own manuscript! The more violent parts overlooked, because that’s a product of imagination, right? But then the more sexualised moments are subject to question.

It’s all part of the human experience called ‘life’. It’s out there. Dodgy sex, dodgy motives, dodgy dudes with dodgy weapons keen on tryin ‘em out in dodgy ways.. but that doesn’t mean I’ve had first contact with it!

Am I making sense? Has anyone else experienced/thought about this?

Why are we (generally) more accepting of gratuitous violence than of full-on sex?

Why is an erotica novel generally considered lower on the ladder than a violent crime novel?

Why are we ok with murder, but not with the most natural instinct to pass on our DNA?

So many questions..

 

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On completing the Sookie Stackhouse series

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Potential spoiler alert- But y’all have read this by now, right?

 

I’ve been putting off finishing this series for a while now. I purchased both ‘Deadlocked’ and ‘Dead Ever After’ when the hardback came out of the latter last May. But there’s something about reading the Bon Temps crew that feels better in the Summer. Aaand, last Summer was quite busy! What with prepping for my dissertation at uni etc.

So, finally, I got around to it.

‘Deadlocked’ (#12) was a good ‘un. There were some parts that made me think ‘ooh err, how’s that gonna come right again?’ but I wasn’t too worried because that’s what the last book was for, right? To tie up all the loose ends.

Let me just say I am well aware of the backlash Charlaine Harris received for the final instalment of this series. So let me also add that I think she’s such an accomplished and inspirational author- to keep a series (multiple series’ in fact) going for so long, that takes series skill and talent!

‘Dead Ever After’ disappointed me. 

That’s all I felt after I read the last page. Sever disappointment and dissatisfaction. It’s maddening because I can understand why Sookie ended up with who she did- but I felt it was handled in very rushed and clumsy way. There was something really odd about the last couple of chapters, the writing style changed, or at least felt different.

Sure, Sookie’s stories are no strangers to a little dirt and edginess.. But.. I felt blind sided by the sudden ‘dick shaft hole harder condom’ business. Wha? Where did that come from? I’m no prude! I love me some all-out sex in a book, but the language was totally off compared to what had come before it (and the book before it, even).

Who do I think Sookie should have had her HEA with? Well, there are a number of options.

Eric - Didn’t we all want this? Again, I actually understood why this just couldn’t happen, but I was still harbouring a cute fantasy about Eric throwing out that interloper Freyda and giving Sook a great white wedding (in the dark) in the back yard… Too much? Well.. a girl can dream.

Bill freakin’ Compton - This was logical. Right? Water under the bridge and all that jazz. And what happened to him anyway? Suddenly he’s a non-point in Sookie’s life. He’s just the photosensitive neighbour that nobody mentions anymore.

Alcide Herveaux - Totally down with this ‘ship right here. Let’s set sail on it!

Quinn - There’s no reason why this didn’t happen.. None. *shrugs*

Both Quinn and Alcide solve that little problem of ‘loving the light’ and blasts away the ‘I’m gonna grow old and die and you’ll stay the same’ issue.

Hoi. I dunno. I just wanted some big fireworks. Some great massive declaration of love…

Instead we get two people ‘settling’ for each other because the other options aren’t worth the risk. It’s safe. It’s sweet. And sure, it’s sexy… But just left me feeling really annoyed… Even though, really, I get it! I get it! Doesn’t mean I have to like it…

So yeah, anyone else finished this series yet? Had similar grumbles?

 

Aside
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Just a quick note to say: I’M AN IDIOT!

 

Seriously.

I knew I was going to be AFK (away from keyboard) for a little while so I did what every clever blogger does- I scheduled all my content to go live while I was elsewhere.

Well hot damn. Not a single THING has been posted.

Why?

Because I set the date for JULY FREAKIN’ 2015.

What a pillock. Be back in black as of now.. Sowwy..

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On Losing My Writerly Way… and Finding it Again

I’ve had a great few weeks, illnesses aside.

But there have been two stand out things that have changed/shaped/terrified me.

1. Attending the Winchester Writer’s Festival 

I was petrified. I drove the 3 hours (passed Stonehenge, which is always fun! Side note: there’s a cute little piggy farm that can be seen just before the ancient boulders) and arrived without much of a clue. Finally finding my room, I loitered around as others arrived and lurked until I could hear someone in my hallway (I know, I’m a creeper). Also, Winchester Uni Students have LOVELY accommodation!

There was a great workshop on the Friday with poet Rhian Edwards and it helped to reaffirm how much poetry means to me, and also that I shouldn’t ignore it as part of my writing repertoire.

Saturday saw a day of talks- some were incredibly useful. Others, a bit repetitive, or more general common sense type advice.

Over both days I had 4 one-to-one appointments with editors and agents etc. Having already sent my work, they were prepped. But heck, I’m not sure I was! There was some great responses, and some not so great (and yeah, I may have hid in the bathroom for a little cry after one such meeting) but there was a resounding ‘who are you writing for?’

This statement alone has plagued me. I mean, I haven’t been just writing willy-nilly. I had a ‘genre’ and  arough audience in mind, but still it kept coming back that I wasn’t communicating that very well.

I generally write literary fiction. But I do have a habit of pulling/borrowing things from genre fiction.

It’s led me to seriously rethink my approach to writing. And that can only have positive results, even though it feels like taking ten steps back rather than leaping forward.

On a massive plus side, I made some great friends at Winchester. Shout out to Sarah and Stacey! And Dale.. who may have shunned us soon after being picked up by an agent, but we will still buy his book when it’s on the shelf :P

2. I applied for a place on an MA course

Say what?

I had a serious case of post-degree depression. I was distraught for it all to be finished… I love school! But more than that, I was becoming more and more frustrated by the rejection letters- for all manner of things, jobs included. So I thought what harm can come from applying to do my Masters?

The interview was tougher than I thought it was going to be. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but to their credit, Falmouth were rigorous, energetic and engaging, all the while grilling me about every aspect of my life almost! Ha!

Never before has an acceptance letter felt so earned. I’m in!

I won’t deny it. It’s scary. The phrase ‘hit the ground running’ keeps cropping up and I have a feeling that I’ll be running from September through June without so much as a water break!

Again, it can only have a positive outcome. I want to learn. I want to work on my skills. I want to write!

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It’s not going to be easy- both completing the Masters (while still working as close to full time as possible) and trying to change my writing approach without compromising on style or substance.

How’s everyone else doing?

 

 

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone (trilogy) by Laini Taylor

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When I finally took the first book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, out of my book case, I was like ‘I’ll read it leisurely and then do a nice little blog post to say that I finally read it.’

But whoa. Hold up. Stop press!

That book rocked my actual world. And I was unstoppable! I quickly bought book 2 and 3 and disappeared into it. Literally.

What did it for me?

Karou – As a protagonist she’s that wonderful mixture of real and totally kick ass crazy. The kind of girl you want as your best friend. Fierce, but still feminine. And that’s always important to me. There’s nothing wrong in being a girl, through and through, as long as you’re a girl with standards. I love her.

Brimstone – Oh deary me, did I cry? No. Because books never make me cry.. BUT! If I were a blubberer then this character would have made me sob! Such a compelling dude.

World Building/Lore – wasn’t too fussy about the teeny weeny details that don’t matter. I mean, for one, how does the resurrectionist make a body exactly? Does it go ‘poof! TA Da!’ ? But it doesn’t matter. I was so invested in the moment and the action that some of the smaller workings weren’t important. Which leads me on to-

Narrative Style – This is indeed one of those books that, as a writer, makes you full of glee and envy in equal parts. Laini Taylor has a way with words that makes me feel sick with jealousy! But it’s such a goddamn joy to read.

Was there anything that didn’t work for me?

Madrigel – Not the character, specifically, but the parts in the narrative that were from her perspective. I was far to interested in what was happening with Karou and Akiva that I found these moments jarring. And I struggled to give a damn. That’s not to say that it wasn’t just as beautifully written, I just found it hard to find the same emotional connection. I felt the same about Eliza in the last book too.

Akiva – Wait. Just wait! I loved Akiva. I felt all that heat coming off him (literally). But sometimes he made me want to slam the book about his head, especially at the end. This is one of those books that ends and then keeps going.. and I really, REALLY wanted that scene in the baths to happen.. Idiot boys.

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As a trilogy this was a an absolute dream. I think, I have to say, the second book was my favourite. The dynamic between Karou and the White Wolf was particularly engaging and I thought how that came to a head was handled with finesse.

This is how I rated them individually on Goodreads:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone 4/5

Days of Blood and Starlight 5/5

Dreams of Gods and Monsters 4.5/5

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I would recommend this serious to anyone that enjoys punchy, witty, emotional rollercoasters with that added edge of fantastical aswesomesauce. It made me shiver, it made me laugh, it made me want to cry. And most importantly, it had be rushing into bed at night so I could read it!

The problem now is.. what next? How can another book follow that? :o

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Wild Fell by Michael Rowe

18128488Wild Fell by Michael Rowe (December 2013 Chizine Publications) from NetGalley

“The crumbling summerhouse called Wild Fell, soaring above the desolate shores of Blackmore Island, has weathered the violence of the seasons for more than a century. Built for his family by a 19th-century politician of impeccable rectitude, the house has kept its terrible secrets and its darkness sealed within its walls. For a hundred years, the townspeople of Alvina have prayed that the darkness inside Wild Fell would stay there, locked away from the light. Jameson Browning, a man well acquainted with suffering, has purchased Wild Fell with the intention of beginning a new life, of letting in the light. But what waits for him at the house is devoted to its darkness and guards it jealously. It has been waiting for Jameson his whole life – or even longer. And now, at long last, it has found him!”

I was really excited about this one. It’s got that traditional Gothic vibe coming off the blurb and I love things that remind me of my favourite classics, but in a way that is different. In this case, I was thinking of Jane Eyre and The Fall of the House of Usher (Bronte and Poe). It’s got a solid ghosty (is that a word?) feel to it and I was digging it like a miner.

So, what did I like?

The concept – Sounds like my kind of fun! When it comes to horror, or ghostly gothic, or whatever you might want to classify this as.

The opening – I wasn’t sure I was entirely on board with the speaker’s voice at first, there was something almost too modern about it. But I quickly got hooked in and forgot all my potential misgivings.

The overall feel – It sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true. I really enjoyed the overall tone of the book. The narrative carries through the same colour and vibe throughout and I always appreciate that kind of stability.

What didn’t work for me?

Post-op – That’s ‘post opening’, but ‘post-op’ is too funny not to say. I felt like this book needed more time spent on it to look at the details. There are some areas of repetitiveness, especially in the descriptions, and I felt like I was being given too much detail in places, I was left feeling that itch to skip the pages to get back to the action/dialogue etc.

Editing – Much related to the above- there seemed to be some smaller errors that once noticed were hard to ignore, and then I just kept finding more. I did have a looksee if anyone else had this issue, and yes, they have. My review copy is quite old now, so hopefully these mistakes have been rectified. It was really distracting and ultimately led me to lose some patience and interest in the read.

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An alright book. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. It did do a great job of setting the scene and I truly enjoyed the tone and narrative style it was aiming for. A neutral 2.5 out of 5. It was ok. :)

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A short aside – I’ve been quite poorly for a while now and inbetween coughing up a lung I’ve been here there and everywhere. Flitting about is NOT conducive to proper healing. So I just want to apologise if this, or any of the next couple of posts, are a little lacking. I’m going from my notes I made when I was reading the books whereas I normally smack down a review immediately after completing a title.

I’ll be back to normal soon. Thanks for sticking with me. :)